Can Lactose Intolerance Be Reversed?

Lactose intolerance results from insufficient production or absence of the enzyme that your small intestine uses to digest milk sugar. This results in a number of uncomfortable digestive symptoms, including bloating and cramping. In most cases, lactose tolerance can't be reversed, although depending upon the circumstances, you may regain your ability to digest lactose with time.


Lactose Intolerance

Lactose is milk sugar; it's a carbohydrate like table sugar and starch. To absorb it into the bloodstream and use it for energy, you need to first digest it into its components, which are the smaller sugars glucose and galactose. To accomplish this, your small intestine uses the enzyme lactase. If you don't produce enough lactase, lactose passes into your large intestine and is digested by bacteria, explain Drs. Reginald Garrett and Charles Grisham in their book "Biochemistry."


There are several possible causes of lactose intolerance, explains the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) website. Some individuals -- though very few -- are born lactose intolerant. Many develop the condition with age; as you get older, your intestine naturally produces less lactase. Some ethnic groups -- Africans and Asians, in particular -- produce less lactase than Europeans. Finally, you can become lactose intolerant after an illness or injury that affects the small intestine.

Reversing Lactose Intolerance

Whether your lactose intolerance is reversible depends upon the cause. If you're born without the ability to digest lactose, there's nothing you can do to reverse the condition. Similarly, if you've lost your lactase production as you age, your condition is irreversible. However, illness- or injury-related lactose intolerance often resolves with time, explains the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) website, meaning that you'll likely be able to digest lactose again. You can't speed this process along, however.


If you have irreversible lactose intolerance or are waiting to regain your lactose-digesting ability, you can still eat dairy in the meantime. Use lactose-free milk and dairy products to avoid symptoms. Alternately, you can use lactase supplements that are available over-the-counter. While these won't treat your condition, they'll give you a temporary supply of the lactase enzyme that you can use to break down the lactose in a meal.


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